Just a little one today, to take you to the oasis town of Istel in the Alagard Desert, where Alagard’s priest is spending a quiet evening at home with his daughter (and his god, of course, who always makes things noisier…)
Her father was singing as he cooked dinner, his voice cheerful and tuneless. If Esen listened closely, she could pick out words over the clatter of pans and hiss of sizzling oil, even from where she stood in the great hall of the temple below.
He was serenading the lentils again.
Rolling her eyes, Esen quickened her pace nonetheless, sweeping her way across the temple floor in a whirl of dust and sand which Alagard himself wouldn’t have scorned. She was hungry, and chores must be done before food.
“You’ll just make a bigger mess if you rush.”
She dropped the broom, whirling round to see her god leaning in the doorway and grinning at her. With a shriek, she hurled herself at him. “You’re back!”
Alagard caught her and whirled her round, as fast as if she was dancing. “How’s my girl?”
“Fourteen,” Esen reminded him, with a sigh. No one seemed to realize that she was almost an adult.
“So old,” Alagard said dolefully and tweaked her nose. He might look only a few years older than her, but he had bounced her on his knee as a baby and never let her forget it. “Too old to accept my help finishing your chores?”
He drew her close, grinning. “Sweeping up the dust, right? Ready?” He spread out his hands and the sand that a day’s worth of worshippers had brought in began to shift and stir. A wind rippled across the temple, making the hangings on the wall quiver and the brass windspinners hanging from the ceiling began to turn. Alagard snapped his fingers and suddenly the wind rose into two whirls, which went spinning across the great hall, picking up the dirt and bouncing off each other gleefully. They looked like a pair of drunks or children giddy from spinning around too much, and Esen burst into laughter.
“Open the back door!” Alagard shouted, laughing with her. “Dust belongs outside!”
She ran for the door, laughing so hard she staggered. Alagard brought his hands close together, grinning, and the whirlwinds suddenly converged to chase her. She managed to fling the back door open and hung to it as two streams of whirling dust shot past her and suddenly folded up into neat little piles of sand and dust.
“There!” Alagard said by her shoulder. “I don’t know why anyone wastes time sweeping.”
“Alagard!” her father’s voice boomed down from the upper gallery, where the door to their living quarters was propped open. “Are you helping my daughter cheat on her chores?”
“Oops,” Alagard said. “Caught.” He threw his arm around Esen’s shoulder and pulled her back inside. “It was all her idea.”
Her father chuckled. “I’ve known you too long, Great Desert. Get up here. Food’s ready. Esen, close that door on your way up.”
She hesitated for a moment, caught by the brightness of the moon. It was full and the light spilled down across the quiet waters of the oasis and the gleaming white roofs of the town. The stars were bright over the desert tonight, with nothing more than a soft wind making the bells sing out from the streets below. Well, of course Istel looked lovely. Alagard was here to visit, and so the desert showed her best face.
“Esen, your dinner is getting cold!”
“No, it’s not,” Alagard called over him. “I’m eating it.”
Laughing, Esen closed the door and ran upstairs to join them.